On New Year’s Resolutions, and The Breaking Thereof

It turns out, the Franklin-Covey people are right. If you want to meet your goals, you need to define them clearly, make sure they are doable, and have clearly delineated measures of success. I knew all this already, of course. All those interminable hours in the corporate salt mines, trying to stay awake while one of the suits walked us through his PowerPoint presentation, explaining how this or that new initiative was going to put us over the top this fiscal year weren’t completely wasted.

It comes as no surprise, then, that with 51 weeks still left in 2013, I’m struggling with my resolution to “Help others more”. Yes, I know I should have tightened it up a little and resolved, for example, to take the neighbor lady’s garbage can to the curb each week. Clearly defined, doable, easily measured, check, check, check. But that isn’t my struggle right now. My struggle is that I often don’t quite know what to do to help, in a way that will make a difference. Even worse, sometimes when I think I am helping, I am actually making the problem worse. Has that ever happened to you? There is a wonderful moment in the movie Shrek where Fiona tells our heroic green ogre that she is just trying to help, and Shrek replies “What you are doing is the OPPOSITE of help!” I know exactly what this feels like, and I’m guessing you do, too. My problem is that I often lack the kind of insight into the lives of the people around me that would show me how to best help in a meaningful way.

Or maybe it is even more difficult. Sometimes I know what to do or say, but I also know that my contribution would be unwelcome. I have home taught people over the years who sorely needed the wisdom I was prepared to give them by the earful, but I knew they just wouldn’t listen. And I could write a fairly thick book containing all the advice I’ve given to my kids over the years, just to see them ignore it and do whatever they wanted anyway, more power to them. That pesky agency thing, always getting in the way of my parenting! I’m afraid that some of my “help” isn’t help as much as it is a desire to control. I know that is what it feels like when I have been on the receiving end of such assistance.


These are the thoughts which have been on my mind lately, and they are why I had a mini-ephiphany last weekend while re-watching an old favorite, A River Runs Through It. (Why yes, yes I have spent time over the holidays watching old movies! How did you ever guess?) If you are familiar with the story, you will recall that Tom Skerrit plays the Reverend Maclean, a Presbyterian clergyman in Missoula, Montana. He loves both his sons, even though they are very different. One is studious, steady, hard-working, and obedient. The other son is also hard-working, but often erratic in his behavior, and given over to heavy drinking and gambling. The drinking and the gambling become ever more problematic, until one day his body is discovered, beaten to death over gambling debts. The heartbroken reverend stands in the pulpit the following Sunday and speaks these words:

“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

It occurs to me that sometimes, in our zeal to be helpful, we forget to be loving. We even sometimes make our love or our presence contingent on our help or advice being accepted.  When we try to be like Jesus, as the song goes (and as another of my nebulously-worded resolutions goes), we are trying to love in a perfect way. Our Savior does not remove our burdens, but he does help us bear them. He does not remove our afflictions, but is present with us as we struggle with them. Some problems simply cannot be solved, at least not now. Maybe the best we can manage is to help make a difference around the margins. But in the meantime, we can always try to love.


  1. Mark, you are a treasure.

  2. Amen, but it seems to me that though we talk about this a lot, we rarely actually do anything about it.

    The people who are struggling don’t need your advice s much as your love and understanding, which really more than anything means your presence. Calling someone just to talk, going to their house to visit and talk or do an activity with them, those are the things that equal love and understanding. It’s not that hard, but we don’t do it.

  3. Printing and tucking this in the back of my scriptures, Mark.

  4. Thanks Mark, Just what was needed. Doing fine so far with this years resolutions —- but there was that one more that was needed and had been overlooked. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Molly Bennion says:

    I reread A River Runs Through It every few years just because I need it. Wisdom on every page. Humor on most.

  6. Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs.

  7. Thank you, Mark.

    And I agree, MCQ. I think most people give advice because it just takes a minute to do that. But it requires a bigger investment to be a presence.

  8. Fantastic book. Funny, I was just recommending it to my husband last week.

  9. Thank you. Such meaningful words.

  10. Mark, if anyone ever asks me to speak in church again, I’m stealing this outright.

  11. Amen.

    Clearly defined, measurable goals are nice, but they don’t work very well for many (most?) of the most important aspect of life.

    Bean counters only know how to count beans, and much of what is important doesn’t look like a bean.

  12. It really is all about love. As I try to deal with very complicated, unsolvable family relationships, I keep reaching the same conclusion you did–I can’t solve their problems but I can try to love them. Happy New Year!

  13. Mark, I just got asked to speak in church on Sunday. Like WVS, I’m stealing this outright. You will not be credited.


  14. Bravo, mark! and I’m not just saying that because I’m from Montana and have fished in that very river. Anyway, I think this is really lovely and my favorite line from my only favorite church made video (From the Mouths of Babes) is when the girl from Krugers Christmas says that even in the FHEs when even they didn’t learn anything, they always learned how to love. I feel when I’m actually helping someone at the place they want to be helped and not being a butinsky and inflicting my agency on them, I am learning how to love like the child taught, and like my children are constantly teach me. You said it better. I should have just said, Amen, brother.

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